Winnipeg honours early Métis leader

October 14, 2013
JAMES BUCHOK
PRAIRIE MESSENGER

On a typically Scottish day, overcast with a light rain, parishioners of St-François Xavier Church and people of the Manitoba town of the same name gathered to honour Cuthbert Grant Jr., an early 19th-century Métis leader, and founder of their Church and community.

Winnipeg Archbishop James Weisgerber told the gathering that although rain is usually unwelcome, "The Métis know the rain feeds the land, it is a welcome blessing from God."

Cuthbert Grant was born in Saskatchewan to a Scottish father, who was a North West Company partner, and a Métis Cree mother.

St-François Xavier Parish, established in 1834, is the oldest in the Winnipeg Archdiocese. Grant was buried in the first log cabin church which burnt to the ground.

The location of Grant's grave was eventually lost.

The day marked the culmination of Sandra Horyski's "passion project" of having a memorial marker for Grant placed in the cemetery.

Grant was born in 1793 at a trading post in Saskatchewan, where his father was a manager. He was educated in Scotland, and at age 19 he joined the North West Company.

BATTLE OF SEVEN OAKS

Grant is best known in Manitoba history for leading the Métis, and some employees of the North West Company, in the Battle of Seven Oaks in June 1816, which occurred in what is now North Winnipeg.

A bitter struggle with the rival Hudson's Bay Company led to the bloody encounter. Grant's better-skilled shooters outnumbered their opponents and 22 Red River colonists were killed. The Métis suffered just one casualty.

Despite this, when the two rival companies merged in 1821 under the name the Hudson's Bay Company, Grant was assigned to head a Métis settlement of some 2,000 people, 25 km west of present-day Winnipeg. The settlement was eventually named for its patron saint, St-François Xavier.

MODERN MEDICINE

Horyski said Grant was the first Métis to practise modern medicine, travelling on horseback to serve his people.

Parishioner Lori Ann Regnier said before the church was built, religious services were held in Grant's home which also served as the community's first school.

He also oversaw the manufacture of Red River ox carts, first used by the Métis to bring meat from the buffalo hunt.

In 1829, Grant built the first watermill west of the Great Lakes to serve the growing grain trade.

But after three years of spring flooding washed the dam out, he salvaged the grindstones and used them to build a windmill.

Grant died in July 1854 from injuries suffered when he was thrown from his horse.